Luisa Miller Anne Sophie Duprels
Rodolfo Alan Oke
Miller Mark Holland
Count Walter Richard Angas
Wurm Paul Reeves
Federica Pippa Longworth
Laura Kathryn Hannah
Opera Holland Park Chorus
City of London Sinfonia
Director Olivia Fuchs
Designer Jamie Vartan
Lighting Simon Corder
Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson
Reviewed: 22 July, 2004
Venue: Opera Holland Park, London
Luisa Miller has never enjoyed the acclaim it deserves. Despite the accolades heaped upon it by Verdi’s biographers, an increasing number of productions (a hopeful sign) and several excellent studio recordings, this opera, successfully premiered in Naples in 1849, has doggedly persisted in remaining on the periphery of popular acceptance.
Yet, it is this work that manifests Verdi’s deeper psychological insight into the drama’s characters, especially in the orchestral writing. The Overture is amazing; there’s nothing like it before in Verdi. It’s no mere potpourri of tunes; instead we have a single movement based on a theme, associated with Luisa, which is worked out with intense musical concentration.
Then there is the Act One finale, starting at the exchange between Rodolfo and his father, Count Walter, with its throbbing accompaniment, culminating in the ensemble between the protagonists. This points clearly towards the great ensembles of La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra. Verdi’s is a considerable achievement in welding music to drama.
Holland Park Opera’s decision to stage Luisa Miller is a welcome one; another attempt to plead its case for wider acceptance. However, the production is not successful. Visually, it is drab. The cast is dressed in what looks like Marks & Spencer’s suits (the men) and BHS dresses and cardigans. There is a confusing set, and in the third act there is inattention to detail that scrappily detracts from the whole. Why, for instance, does Luisa have only a chair when she is writing her crucial letter? Sending in the Riot Squad, complete with riot-gear and shields, to arrest Rodolfo in Act Two is simply OTT.
It was up to the music to save the evening. And it is there that satisfaction lies. From the first beat of the overture, Peter Robinson never put a foot wrong. It is as if he has lived and breathed this score all his life. His grasp and understanding of the dramatic action, and inner emotions, was evident in every note. He knows just how to accompany singers, how to restrain orchestral sound, and how to let it rip.
The soloists all have individual talents. First Night nerves notwithstanding they rose above the fashionable nonsense of the production. Anne Sophie Duprels made an affecting Luisa even if her drab costume over-emphasised her vulnerability; she seemed more of little girl than a young woman. But she acted and moved well. Her father was sympathetically sung by Mark Holland, while Richard Angas’s Count Walter and Paul Reeves provided admirable foils for each other, especially the Act Two duet.
But Luisa Miller really belongs to the tenor. Alan Oke’s presence both vocally and dramatically grew throughout the evening, until in the dramatic recitative to his great set-piece “Quando le sere al placido” he became central to the performance. Some over-acting apart, he gained our sympathies, and sang extremely well, especially so in the last act.
Pippa Longworth’s Federica, Rodolfo’s disappointed lover, made as good a stab as anyone has at this rather odd role. A limited character with some not-very-good music to sing, and never heard of again after Act Two. Longworth deserved her ovation. The Chorus was in strong voice and clear enunciation.
Musically, as fine an evening as any I have enjoyed at Holland Park.